Not Far Enough

We’ve come far but not far enough. It pays to know history, even a bit of it. During the Great Depression, the struggle for a living wage and dignity in the workplace culminated in 1930’s Labor Laws. The imbalance of power of desperate workers and company greed forced the government to support the right to unionize and created social security. A forty-hour workweek was mandated, child labor was banned and a federal minimum wage was instituted.

Sounds good, right? While a step in the right direction, companies took to the courts for decades and successfully struck down minimum wage laws. One claim was that companies’ constitutional right to freely contract with workers was taken away.

Caveats to the law became the norm. There were minimum wages for women. There were word games like “they’re not employees, they’re independent contractors”. And there were the Southern Democrats holding on to the racial divide. There was no way they could accept an equal playing field. So the expansively written minimum wage law was whittled down by exclusions. These exclusions omitted occupations held disproportionally by Blacks, Latinos, women and poor. 

The 1963 March on Washington brought another turning point towards human dignity. The Civil Rights Act ended legal segregation in public places and prohibited employment discrimination.

Yet industries still exclude workers from fair pay and decent working conditions. If you are a farm or domestic worker, you know what I mean. If you process maple syrup or work in the motion picture industry, you know what I mean. (For a great podcast on this visit Reveal).

We’ve come far but not far enough. The value of human dignity must exceed the drive of greed. And each of us must ensure it. 

Books Unite Us…

In recognition of Banned Books Week, September 18 through 24, I took a deep dive into the list of Classics that are banned or challenged. Unsurprisingly I found some of my favorite authors: Faulkner, Hemingway, Morrison, Steinbeck, Alice Walker, and James Baldwin. Seeing Richard Wright’s Native Son on the list took me back to a high school English class and the horror I felt at the shocking truth it taught me about race. 

I’m forever grateful to the teachers who encouraged us to step out of our parochial view of the world. Through books they opened the door of our mutual humanity, in all of its complexities, glory, and ugliness.

I learned I had nothing to fear in words or ideas. I learned that the free will to choose is a powerful tool and that the ability to discern right from wrong is an inherited strength. In reading about diverse people, empathy grew. In understanding history from those who lived through wars and the Depression, I recognized the wisdom of not allowing ignorance to rule. 

Those who fear books and the ideas expressed within them cling to a worldview as skewed as the ones they fear. Those who would ban books are afraid to open minds and hearts to a broader humanity. They curtail understanding and are a curse to upcoming generations.

Fear is not what we need to propagate. Censorship is not a game to be played. Self-reflection is a worthy art and when we understand we are a fraction of the human kaleidoscope, life becomes a wondrous journey.

No one should have the right to clip the wings of freedom. In truth no one can. Ideas are born within the breath of every unique individual.

And that cannot be banned.

You can Support the Right to Read by signing the petition from the American Booksellers Association.


Where Are We Headed?

The blatant takeover of the Supreme Court and the bold and reckless words of Clarence Thomas are telling us what’s at stake. When Thomas declares war on anything he deems Constitutionally challengeable, like abortion, gay marriage and contraception, he and the rest of his ilk are forgetting the most unchallengeable – the separation of church and state.

As Jefferson penned in 1814, “Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law”.

So when local folks running for local office tell us they are going to bring back Christian values, its time to say, hold on partner, lets review history, not re-write it.

It ‘s time for all clear thinking people to step out of the red and blue boxes designed to divide so that we can see the current power grab as it is. We’re being played. We have been for the past fifty years. We’ve been divided by ignorance, our own and that which is thrust upon us.

Abortion will not end because of a law. Women of lessor means will suffer greatly as will their families, as will our society. The hypocrisy of this moment is only lost on those who blindly follow and those who corruptly lead.

So when I see a candidate running for the sheriff’s office proudly posing with a man who was unapologetically part of the January 6th coup attempt on our government, I have to ask, “Where are we headed?”

We’re fortunate to have some very fine people running for office, principled people putting their necks on the line and challenging us to make history again, to become the people we have believed we could be. 

We have the opportunity to mend the divide, to come together. 

And please do your homework, for all our sakes.

Here are a few worthy candidates of consideration, running in Vernon County, Wisconsin and the greater Wisconsin area: Turben for Sheriff; Swiggum for the 96th; and Cooke for Congress (WI 3rd District)

Find Better Ways

The world has been upended again. This time by a leak of something that has not and may not happen. Reactionaries on both sides are swift to lay blame, while caring people are scrambling to salvage what bit of sanity may still prevail. 

The issue is abortion. It’s successfully divided people for fifty years. And while nearly 60 % of us favor legality, those of religious dogma and political control use it as a power grab. And people who oppose making abortion illegal have yet to garner the clarity, unity and focus to make the issue go away.

Abortions will happen. Safely and legally or unsafely and illegally should be the most important consideration. Women suffer through patriarchal dominance and prohibitive laws will add to the suffering.

What is needed is not a battle. What is needed is a change in behavior and a revival of consciousness. Ensuring human rights would be a good starting point.

There are doctors, social workers, ministers and the like scrambling to find ways to help women who are caught in states criminalizing abortion and removing health-care facilities. These state laws are creating a health crisis that is unnecessary and inhuman.

Women with difficult pregnancies; ones who miscarry and are held suspect; those raped by family or friend; and those who did not know the rapist will all be harmed. Mothers who cannot afford to have another child will suffer, as will their families.

We need to stop the battle and deal with reality. Abortion may again become illegal in some states. Abusing women with antiquated laws is not the solution. Teaching respect and providing adequate free health care including birth control would be a better way. Caring for one another might actually be the key.

Image is Creative Commons. Author is Becharaia.

Being Queer

Besides the slap, the Oscars gave us the first openly Queer Latino Actor of color to win. This sent many of older generations scrambling to understand how the word Queer got injected into the Oscars. After all isn’t “Queer” a pejorative? A word not mentioned in polite company and only spoken in hushed voices behind peoples’ backs or screamed accusingly to make a point. 

Yes, until the 80’s the association of the word queer was meant to do harm. I remember being called queer and homosexual for the first time when I was barely a teen. When I looked up the word “homosexual”, I learned it was considered a disease. 

It wasn’t until 1973 that homosexuality was delisted as a disease, by that time I was graduating high school and the damage was done. When you’re different you learn very quickly that consequences are dire and unrelenting, especially in small towns in this Puritanical country.

So most young people escaped to the cities, hoping to find some semblance of community, of family, of welcome. There they were often met with police who targeted cross-dressing and drag with violence and arrest. If you’re ready for a bit of Queer history, I recommend reading about the 1969 Stonewall Riots. Often considered a turning point in human liberation, those “queers” demanded dignity and respect.

The 80’s brought a whole new relationship to the word Queer as people of color and transgender people reclaimed the word as a source of strength. Indigenous people shared their understanding of multiple genders, and the nature of Two-Spirit. 

The binary illusion is cracking. Patriarchy and Christianity are forced to self-examine. Times are tough on them.

I say evolution is a good thing. As someone who is comfortable with gender fluidity, I proudly welcome the word Queer. 

The Spirit of the 60’s Lives

Well Toto, we aren’t in the 60’s anymore. Somewhere during the past decades we took a turn away from civil rights, voting rights, peace, love and ending war.

In the last few days the Wisconsin legislature passed a few bills that curled my toes. Without the help of Governor Evers’ veto pen, here is what we can look forward to: Eighteen year olds, who cannot legally purchase a gun, will be given permission to open carry – that includes to high school. 

Another punch to the gut is a bill that takes aim at protesting.  Stiff penalties for attending a protest that turns violent – whether you were peaceful or not – is sending a cold chill through the land of the free – and I’m not talking current temps. Having seen provocateurs at Standing Rock; I am inclined to keep praying for Governor Evers’ good health and penmanship. 

And with the ultimate insult to minorities, the Wisconsin Republican majority passed an anti-CRT bill. Parents would have the right to seek censure of teachers who mention systemic racism if their children are offended by truth. 

The federal government is poised to lead us back to war, selling weapons to Ukraine and rattling the saber of power. Yet most of us, who could change the course of things, are distracted and pleading for the return of “normal”. Whatever that is.

But the spirit of the 60’s is here for proponents of Black Lives Matter and for Indigenous led efforts to keep oil in the ground and protect the earth. It’s alive for those calling “No war with Russia” and demanding nuclear disarmament. And you can find it in the people leaving jobs or striking in numbers that are shaking the feudal lords.(Listen to a town hall with Bernie Sanders and workers.)

The question is: where are you in this tidal wave of change?

Photo Public Domain 1963 March on Washington

Pride and Practicality

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of my father tinkering at his workbench. Actually looking back he wasn’t tinkering, he was repairing something that needed a bit of help. I distinctly remember the two-sided toaster that he dismantled to get it up and running again. I loved that toaster. 

A young soldier in World War II, my father took pride in the skills he learned in the service. He took pride in his tools. He was a practical man. And practicality included not throwing things away that could be fixed. 

It was a different time. But was it?

Fast-forward to the recent Federal Trade Commission’s stance on ending the restrictions manufacturers place on individuals repairing their own goods. From cell phones to tractors, companies currently “own” the right to repair. Buyers, like us, are often unable to purchase parts needed and attempts at repair are forbidden.  

That liberal leaning state of Massachusetts led the way with its 2020 Right to Repair Initiatives and now corporations are crying foul that the right for the buyer to repair could become the law of the land.

My father was a conservative. He was conservative in his politics, in his faith and in his approach to life. I am 100% certain he would be 100% against corporate ownership of repair. He would not have let anyone take away his ability or his keen sense of wonder.

This isn’t about liberal or conservative. This is basic Humanity 101. Everyone needs a little elbow room to live as they wish.*  Everyone needs to live in dignity.

I still have some of my father’s tools. I use them proudly. I can’t fix everything, but hey, that is the gift of community. We help one another. And you can’t take that away.

*I first heard that phrase from one of the greatest advocates for humanity, Prem Rawat.

Learn more about the Right to Repair

And get involved.

Disarm the Police

The ruthless killing of Black men and others by police is being challenged, as it should. Thinking people and those who suffered the consequences of force run amuck are working towards creating new systems. Phrases like “defund the police”, “disarm the police”, and “abolish the police” are being discussed as we come to this fork in the road. 

Some are willing to explore the possibility of life without policing, as we have known it. They are championing funding for mental health care and community support. They’re educating us on the historical roots of policing that was created to maintain the wealth and property of the upper class. And they’re upending the myth “to serve and protect.”

In truth we should all welcome this evolutionary moment. But some do not believe in evolution. And it shows. We were all handed a system and some are determined to stick with it – for good or for bad. Their resistance to change shows in “Back the Blue” signs. It shows in comments of how people should obey the police. “If you are innocent, no need to run, right?” Wrong.

As an institution the police force is beyond repair. Doubt it? When a twenty-six year veteran, instructor and past union president of the police force can’t tell the difference between a Taser and a gun…they’re either lying or living proof that the system is beyond repair. Some police are driven by fear of other, some by hatred and some are all too clear what betrayal to their comrades will mean.

Make no mistake; we have arrived. The conversation has begun and we will either go kicking and screaming into that good night or we will embrace what should have happened long ago. 

Disarm the police. Demilitarize our lives.

We’re better than this. 

photo: Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Nine Minutes and Twenty-Nine Seconds

The Derek Chauvin trail has begun. 

Instead of over eight minutes of Chauvin with his knee on the neck of George Floyd, we now know it was 9 minutes and 29 seconds. 

We know the first two arresting officers had handcuffed George Floyd and that he had begun to plead, “Please don’t shoot me.” And that he expressed fear of getting into the squad car. 

Then Officer Chauvin and his partner arrived. 

The four officers’ escalation of force had bystanders expressing concern for the safety of George Floyd. And one by one they spoke tearfully and painfully from the witness stand of how they watched George Floyd killed that day. 

They spoke of feeling helpless. They spoke of regret. They wondered what more they could have done to save the life of a man they did not know. They recognized it could’ve easily been one of them, there on the cement, held by four men with a man’s knee on their neck. For 9 minutes and 29 seconds.

They’ll never forget George Floyd begging for his life, crying out that he couldn’t breathe, and calling for his mother.

The entire world is watching. And again we are reliving the senseless killing of a man of color by an officer sworn to protect and defend. Once again we hear the defense of fear as the excuse given to treat another human being as less than.

I can’t help but recall the photos I’ve seen of white hoods and hatred. Of whips and forced removals, of white ugliness cloaked in religion and shielded by politics and the “law”.

And I hope and pray that we see ourselves on trial and that we make it our business to not turn away. Make it change.

Say his name. George Floyd.

photo courtesy of No Spiritual Surrender on Facebook.

Inequitable Justice

When a president cannot condemn white supremacy we have arrived at a pivotal moment. When he attempts to whitewash our history by sidestepping the Doctrine of Discovery and governmental acts of racism, we must demand truth.  

When his Supreme Court pick proclaims to be a strict constructionist and pledges allegiance to Constitutional Law, many will find patriotism in her words. But the founding fathers were fallible. Their constructs were laced with racism and misogyny inevitably creating an inequitable system of justice.

When Trump uses the rallying cry of “law and order” we must recognize that the judicial system in this country has always favored property over humanity. It’s not a broken system. It’s a system working as it was designed to work. It protects wealth and maintains control over individuals of lessor means through unjust sentences, impossible fees and physical might.

Change will come when the majority of us understand that we cannot fix this system. It’s stacked against us. Instead we must continue to create new ways of restoring justice. We need to develop better means towards rehabilitation and reconciliation. We need to take the leap towards what has been called “beloved community”.  We need to seek out and conspire with others in this human effort. And we must be willing to let the old system die.

This is why activists proclaim, “Defund the police”. Defunding the police is only one piece of dismantling a corrupt system, which must undergo transformation, if we are to survive as a people.

The farce of an election will play out. Lobbyists and other power brokers wait in the wings to have their say. But it’s not too late; it will never be too late, for we the people to co-create a better day. 

It is time to end the division cultivated by racism. We are and have always been one people.

The poster of the movie, “Birth of a Nation” is public domain. The Birth of a Nation is a silent film from 1915. It is three hours of racist propaganda.